Black Sabbath’s Paranoid is indisputably one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time, but it wasn’t always an instantly recognisable rock anthem. When Sabbath played the Jazz Bilzen festival in Belgium on August 21, 1970, their signature song had yet to break into the UK charts, or trouble European radio airwaves, so it’s easy to imagine how confusing it was for an audience of stoned hippies gathered to see the likes of Cat Stevens, The Kinks and Dizzie Gillespie, to hear Ozzy Osbourne wailing about insanity, depression and suicidal thoughts over *that Tony Iommi riff.
Actually, you don’t have to imagine, because there’s priceless footage of Sabbath’s performance on the band’s official YouTube channel. It’s a wonderful snapshot of heavy metal history.
Famously, Sabbath knocked out Paranoid in 30 minutes purely to add another three minutes of music to their second album. Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler initially didn’t want to jam on Tony Iommi’s ‘throwaway’ riff at all because they considered it a Led Zeppelin rip-off.
“Ozzy and I thought it was too close to Communication Breakdown by Led Zeppelin,” Butler recalled. “We always loved Zeppelin in them days, sitting round on the floor smoking dope and listening to that first album. So when Tony came up with the riff to Paranoid me and Ozzy spotted it immediately and went, ‘Naw, we can’t do that!’ In fact we ended up having quite a big argument about it. Guess who was wrong?”
“I remember going home and I said to my then-wife, ’I think we’ve written a single’,” Ozzy recalled. “She said, ‘But you don’t write singles.’ I said, ‘I know, but this has been driving me nuts on the train all the way back’.”
Paranoid reached number 4 on the UK singles chart on August 29, 1970. Its parent album, Paranoid, became Sabbath’s only number 1 album of the decade one month later.
BMG released a super deluxe 50th anniversary edition of Paranoid on October 9.